Dwonna Know What I Think?”
A social/lifestyle advice and commentary column by guest contributor Dr. Dwonna Naomi Goldstone. Dr. Goldstone is a Professor of English and Coordinator of the African American Studies Minor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
I want to come out to my family, but I am scared. I’ve already come out to a few friends, but my family is so important to me. I just want to feel supported. How should I come out?
Scared and Nervous
Dear “Scared and Nervous”:
Since Dwonna doesn’t quite know what it’s like to be gay, she passed this question to me, Blake Haney, her favorite student and sometimes collaborator of “Dwonna Know What I Think. She loves to send me the LGBTQI questions, and I love answering them. This question is one that many people have been asked me many times. It’s an enormous step, coming out as the person you’ve always been. Part of coming out is explaining that very fact to the people who love and care about you. You are still the person they’ve always known and loved.
There is not one way to come out. I know people who have had sit-down, face-to-face discussions with their families. I know people who have made videos. I know people who have blurted it out at the dinner table because they couldn’t take the tension and the anxiety any more. I had already tried coming out when I was 17, and I allowed my parents to believe that my attraction to men was a phase that I could pray my way out of. In 2009, I came out to my middle sister, and three years later I came out to my oldest one, just a few months before my parents. My friends were getting married and having children, and I knew my family was waiting for me. However, I was waiting on something different, but really, it was something very much the same. It was just with someone of the same gender.
So, after years of trying to make it work with the “right girl,” I chose to write my parents a letter. I did this mainly because I knew I would cry, and I wanted to be clear and precise. At 25, though, it was time. I was preparing to move from the comforts of Austin Peay and Clarksville back to my parents’ home in Chattanooga, and I wanted to return to them and to the city as a free person. I wrote my truth, stuck a stamp on the envelope, and sent it into the unknown. I knew that my parents loved me. In fact, I had always known that, but they raised their family in an independent Baptist church, and I was worried that they’d support the church’s beliefs over me.
It was a Monday afternoon when my parents received that letter. My heart almost exploded when I saw a text from my mom. She responded positively, but in her usual brevity that I have come to love: “Got your letter. I love you. Good night.” Dad was the one I was most nervous to hear from. His text came on Tuesday; it was a beautiful response: “You are my son. My love for you is deeper than any ocean. I will call you later.” I will never forget their kindness and gentleness for accepting me for whom I am.
I want to be clear, though. Not everyone is as lucky as I was. Some people experience pain and heartbreak as a result of coming out. I want you to remember that we, as a community, are here for you, and we sometimes have to become a family all our own. However, we also have allies who are there for us, too, and don’t forget to lean on those friends who you have already told. You’ll remember the moment you came out to your family for the rest of your life, and you will feel free just like I did no matter how it turns out.
*Dr. Dwonna Naomi Goldstone is a Professor of English and Coordinator of the African American Studies Minor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She loves assisting her students and is willing to share advice with anyone who will listen. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.